Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Iceland: A Walking Tour of Reykjavik

Do you recognize this photo? This is Hallgrimskirkja, the large Lutheran church in Reykjavik, though not its cathedral which is much more modest. Construction of the building began in 1945 and the church was finally consecrated in 1986, the same year that Reykjavik celebrated its 200th year as a town/city. 

Iceland has become such a popular tourist destination that dozens of photos of this church pop up all the time on Instagram and travel blogs. We didn't see this church at night. And we didn't see the Aurora Borealis. The reason is that we were in Iceland in June when there is no complete darkness.  In June the darkest it gets is still light. 

We saw it in daylight as the meeting place for our walking tour of Reykjavik on our first full day, a cold and rainy morning. 

This statue of Iceland-born Leifur Eriksson is positioned in the front yard. It was donated to Iceland in 1930 by the USA to commemorate the 1000th anniversary of the Althing, the Icelandic parliament. You probably learned in school, as I did, that Leif Ericsson "discovered" North America long before Christopher Columbus stumbled over it.

As you might expect in a country where there are long winter days and nights, people are drawn to art, colour and handcrafts. Everywhere there are murals and sculptures and brightly coloured buildings. We started in the Einar Jonsson sculpture garden across from the church.



The King of Atlantis

From there we walked the streets and admired the murals, fences and other outdoor oddities along the way. 

Somebody had decorated a fence.

These folks have a cow coming through their garden wall!

Many murals on outdoor walls.

The artist's name:

Colourful balconies

Even the fire hydrants drew our attention!

Handcrafts on offer everywhere.

Whimsical displays at this restaurant in the harbour.

Even trash cans can be artistic/whimsical!

Important information:

Inspired use of colour everywhere!

We had a look at the old harbour, where, as in many places in Iceland, more building is in progress thanks to the huge increase in tourism, the country's main business now that fishing has declined.

Even the airport was fun to explore (no, not on the walking tour but I'm including it here just because I can)

Looking up at the ceiling:

Displays at the airport bookstore, made of books.


Another airport display window features Icelandic wool.


At one point on our walking tour, we passed the old prison, a sad empty building, built in 1874, that closed in 2016. It housed the courthouse and originally had room for 23 inmates. We were told that a new modern prison has opened up but that violent crime is rare in Iceland. Families living there feel safe. 


On returning home, though and remembering the clean streets and harbour area with no sign of indigent people or beggars or even buskers, I had to wonder about the occurrence (or lack thereof) of organized crime, drug use, mental illness and alcoholism in a country which is so dark for most of the year. 

Iceland is well known as a place where citizens are valued pretty equally, where gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity and wealth are not measures of a person's worth. Unemployment is low and there is a strong sense of community, a working together to enhance each other's life. Maybe the small population of just over 300,000 is what makes this society tick so well, its people cooperating and taking pride in their creativity and resilience. 

It was a joy to visit.

Our stop-over took place May 30 to June 3, 2017

On the blog:

Day of Arrival
Golden Circle Tour
A Walking Tour of Reykjavik
Whales and Puffins
Last Morning